Bamberger's intriguing life in golf

I feel old. It is strange that one should sit in one’s living room on Christmas morning, surrounded by my sister, wife and baby daughter, and feel this way, but that’s the reality of the situation.
Why? Oddly enough, it is because of a gift.
My wife presented me with a copy of Michael Bamberger’s This Golfing Life. Yes, that Bamberger. The one responsible for the Michelle Wie fiasco a month or so ago. While most know him as a writer for SI and for making a questionable decision involving a debatable drop, I know Bamberger for To The Linksland, and The Green Road Home, books he wrote more than a decade ago.
It was with some excitement that I ripped open a neatly wrapped gift to find Bamberger’s compendium, This Golfing Life. I quickly flipped it open and eyed the contents. It wasn’t hard to find what I was looking for — a chapter entitled Fountainhead. It was in this chapter that Bamberger updated readers on what happened to the central characters of To The Linksland. Peter Teravainen, the wild swinging US pro lost in Europe, is pitching clubs in Japan, and John Stark, the Yoda-like pro at Crieff, still has Auchnafree, the six hole course in a field somewhere in central Scotland. While I was intrigued at finding out what happened to these central characters, I was also stunned to find out that Bamberger wrote the book while in his early 30s. Maybe I was surprised that someone could go searching for the heart of the golf at such a young age. It was also surprising to see how much he accomplished by the time he hit the point in life where I’m at right now.
It might sound overblown or sentimental, but Too The Linksland moved me in a way few books have. It made me seek out what Scotland has to offer, made me want to see and play places like Dornoch, Crail, Crieff and the like. And I know the book had an impact on others. My good friend Steve returned my copy of the book stained with tears that dripped upon the final pages. Like many others, he went to see Machrihanish because of Bamberger’s book. And surely like other readers, Steve has had to explain to his significant other why exactly he wants to leave her and her children to fly across the ocean to play golf. I’m sure she hasn’t read To The Linksland, so she won’t understand. I’m sure she asks herself why Steve can’t just be content playing the course up the street. But as anyone who has jumped in a rental car at the airport at Glasgow knows, there’s nothing like an open Scottish road with the promise of a links at the end of it.
Bamberger’s This Golfing Life has proven to be a great read. I busted my way through it in two days, fascinated by all of the writing Bamberger has done and the stories he’s broken. For example, it was Bamberger’s account of Ben Wright and the announcer’s comments on the LPGA that eventually got Wright fired. Yes, Bamberger clearly enjoys being at the centre of a good story (witness the Michelle Wie debacle earlier this year), and is a bit of an idealist, but he’s also pragmatic enough to recognize the importance of a well written feature and the role of character and personality within it.
As a journalist I was intrigued and jealous of the support Bamberger received from editors, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer, then later at Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated. As I near my first decade as a journalist, I’ve only encountered such editors occasionally and few have had a dramatic impact on my career. Hopefully I meet more on them in the coming years.
In some ways, Bamberger’s update made me sad. He points out the experiences of the book took place when he was 31. The ramifications were dramatic — he landed a gig at Sports Illustrated and became one of the best known golf writers in the world. This made me think. Bamberger’s book was one of the reasons I started writing about golf. That was nearly eight years ago. I have yet to write anything as impactful as To The Linksland. Maybe I never will. But it is something to continue striving for.
I’m sure I started thinking about all of this because I’m poised on making a significant change in my life. How these changes will impact my golf writing remains to be seen. It has been an interesting year — with a book under my belt, and intriguing possibilities for the future — 2006 will surely present a myriad of options. That much I know.

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Jeff Lancaster

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think I know how you feel: I started feeling old at 27 when I remembered that Orson Welles made “Citizen Kane” when he was 26. Ouch! Bamberger was fortunate (or blessed) to have found what moved him earlier than most (and then was lucky to find/work with the kind of editors you describe). I like to think of him as an early bloomer; for us ‘late’ bloomers, I think the trick is to do/follow the things that move US the most, and then watch to see (and, yes, hope) that this has some resonance with others. I continue to hope that when/if I’M in the zone, others will start to appear that might help me on my way. In the meantime, I try to remember that my CURRENT working life (and yours: you have a fine career going) are nothing to sneeze at. And of course, there is always golf to be played come springtime. Here’s hoping that the new year brings us BOTH a myriad of options (I think my wife and I might be having a baby this summer; too early to tell, and after thinking it wasn’t going to be possible)…

  • Peter: May thanks for your kind remarks. I think in life it is often far too easy to become too comfortable with one’s position. It is only my taking risks that we find what we can truly achieve. I’m looking forward to trying!

  • Thanks for the tip Robert. I just finished To the Linksland and thought it was terrific. I had some gift certificates from the big box bookstore burning a hole in my jeans and picked it up the other day. Could not put it down and finished it last night. Awoke a few times after turning in and wondered “how am I going to get to Scotland?” All in due time I suppose.

    Anyway, we are off to do some returns today and with a couple more certificates I know which book is next on my list.


  • Dave — glad I could point you to something worth wasting your time on. Bamberger’s books are among the best and if you can find his 1985 book, The Green Road Home, I’m sure you’ll also enjoy it.

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